Big Media v. Big Tech – the Canadian Edition

By Jack Johnson, Destinations International

In the middle of February, the Australian government passed a bill that would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news that surfaces on their platforms.  Facebook opted for the nuclear option by moving abruptly to remove all news content from feeds of Facebook users across Australia, blocking users’ ability to view or share links to content the social media giant had flagged as “news”.  Now, with Canada's government mulling similar legislation, it is possible the story could repeat itself in what is becoming a proxy war between Big Tech and Big Media. 

While Facebook may have won concessions via its scorched earth campaign against the Australian legislation, it may have lost the moral high ground in the process and energized the social media platform’s opponents in Australia and beyond. A snap poll of more than 500 Australians Facebook users showed 56% agreed with the statement that the news ban was unjustified, 36% said they would quit the platform if it was not reversed, and only 19% said they trusted Facebook. Part of this may be a response to the way Facebook implemented the ban that resulted in pulling pages of charities and government agencies it mistook to be news brands. This included health related departments and nonprofits working to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and those confronting brushfires.  

Now comes the Canadian proposed legislation and perhaps other fronts in the world such as India. This may be a widening war between the two groups. Two things to keep an eye open for are the usual in proxy wars –  collateral damage and refugees, in this case social media platform refugees. 

Collateral damage could come in the form of a loss of smaller publishers. Many argue that the new rules unfairly favors the big publishers such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.  In the revised legislation, the Australian government allowed the tech giants to pay different publishing groups varying amounts, and to only pay when the content is intentionally uploaded, rather than when average users share news links. To be eligible to bargain with Google and Facebook under the legislation, publishers must have a minimum revenue of $150,000 Australian dollars per year as well as other requirements. Small publishers fear the new rules could accidentally destroy media diversity since it is the smaller players that have the most to lose since they rely heavily on social media platforms as a vehicle to get their content shared. 

The refuges could be users leaving the larger platforms. As Gabe Seder pointed out in a previous blog post, “moves like that in Australia may result in short term volatility for Facebook advertisers, but the bigger threat is probably the slow bleed of users away from Facebook, which has been going on for some time and may only accelerate if regulation like that in Australia erodes the user experience enough to drive users to other platforms. A shrinking user base would drive up costs for advertisers competing for a smaller pool of consumers and of course, reduce the flow of inbound traffic through organic links.” 

The one thing I am pretty sure of, this fight will accelerate before it is over. As will the collateral damage and refugees.  

About Jack:

As Chief Advocacy Officer, Jack Johnson manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities.  He also oversees the board governance, the Destination Management Accreditation Program (DMAP) and the DestinationNEXT (Assessments and Planning) Program. Johnson brings unrivaled experience developing innovative strategies, policy solutions and civic consensus for government, not-for-profits and small businesses.

Johnson has received numerous accolades including being named as one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2018 for his work on opposing travel boycotts and bans. Currently, his work around positioning destination organizations as a shared value in each of their communities and speaking with a new lexicon based on the emotion-driven by those values has made him one of the leading voices of the travel industry.

During his previous tenure with Choose Chicago, Johnson played a leading role in the extensive reforms of the McCormick Place Convention Center and the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, resulting in a new convention center operating model with both a travel industry and a citywide civic perspective. Johnson was integrally involved in the merger of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Chicago Office of Tourism, resulting in maximizing their resources, unifying the message and embedding the organization into the city’s economic development strategy.